Switzerland emphasises the importance of reforms into the World Trade Organisation (WTO), increased WTO role in trade and environmental sustainability, and establishing rules for digital trade in the upcoming WTO’s 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13) in Abu Dhabi next month, according to a senior Swiss official.

“Switzerland is a firm believer in the benefits and the necessity of the multilateral trading system. For Switzerland, the reform of the WTO is therefore at the centre of MC13,” said Ambassador Markus Schlagenhof, Delegate of the Federal Council for Trade Agreements and head of the World Trade Division in the Foreign Economic Affairs Directorate of Switzerland.

“By doing so we must not forget that the existing WTO rules are and will remain an important framework for international trade,” he told the Emirates News Agency (WAM) in an email interview from Bern.

Crucial global meet after COP28

The UAE is set to host MC13 following the successful organisation of COP28, the UN Climate Conference in Dubai in December.

Scheduled for 26th to 29th February 2024 in Abu Dhabi, the meeting will convene representatives of 164 nations and trading blocs.

The conference will seek key reforms to the global trading system, including expanding WTO membership, devising stronger dispute resolution mechanisms, and adopting digital trade frameworks.

The Swiss diplomat said that it is crucial to have a functioning and enforceable dispute settlement mechanism, which is the key element of the WTO reforms.

Ambassador Schlagenhof emphasised the need for an increased role of the WTO in trade and environmental sustainability and underscored the importance of developing rules for the rapidly growing digital trade.

UAE as crucial economic hub

The Swiss official said the UAE has prepared the ground well for the WTO meeting.

Switzerland views the UAE as a crucial economic hub in the region, with numerous Swiss enterprises operating in the market. The close economic ties are further solidified by the Free Trade Agreement in effect since 2014, the envoy said.

“We are looking forward to coming to Abu Dhabi and to working towards a positive outcome at MC13!” said the diplomat with over two decades of experience in global trade matters since 1995.

MC13, a pivotal WTO meeting, aims to address challenges such as supply-chain disruption, inflation, protectionism, and climate change.

Additionally, the meeting will discuss measures to enhance investments in trade technologies, fostering more sustainable and resilient supply chains.

11 CEPAs support global trade

The UAE has taken up the initiative to host this global meet, given its increasingly important role as a global logistics hub. The country advocates for a more inclusive global trading system as a champion for increasing engagement of the Global South in international trade.

In 2021, the UAE started forging Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with major partners worldwide. CEPAs aim to establish more open, sustainable and mutually beneficial trading relations by removing barriers to trade in goods and services, simplifying customs procedures and streamlining supply chains.

The UAE has concluded CEPA with 11 countries such as India, Indonesia, Israel, Türkiye, South Korea, Cambodia, Colombia, Georgia, Mauritius, Congo-Brazzaville and Costa Rica. The first four agreements have already come into effect.